March 1, 2021 7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
March 8 is International Women’s Day. It’s the annual global moment to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political accomplishments of women. This year, #ChoosetoChallenge is the theme, with a call to action for us to all step up and challenge inequity.
But before you celebrate, post, tweet, share and talk about the importance of International Women’s Day, ask yourself the following question: As a leader, what are you doing to support and keep working mothers in the workforce during this pandemic?
March 8 is clearly a significant day, but it also marks a year ago almost to this very day that many of our pandemic journeys began. My husband and I began working remotely, and our children began virtual school, this week last year. I, along with so many other women, naively thought this would only last a handful of weeks. Perhaps because our brains couldn’t process what longer than that could mean for all of us.
A year later, the consequences have been nothing short of devastating for women:
5.4 million women have lost their jobs since February 2020.
Over 2.1 million women have disappeared from the workforce entirely.
Three working mothers unemployed for every father who had lost a job (as of September 2020).
As leaders, we collectively own these statistics. And we each have a role to play in how we can continue to support and retain the working mothers on our teams. So before you decide to honor International Women’s Day with a post in your social channels, make sure you are focusing on these five things to keep working mothers in the workforce:
Stop focusing on hours of operation
In a pandemic, there is no such thing as core operating hours. Don’t focus on when working mothers are starting and ending their days and how many “visible” hours they are logging. Rather focus on prioritizing what needs to get done every week, the output of the work and when key deliverables are due. If that means the work gets done in the early mornings or late evenings, be supportive on what schedule works for her. Be open to hearing what projects can no longer be a priority, weekly reports that no longer need to be pulled and how as a team you can all work more efficiently.
Provide flexibility and support
Now is the time to step up and offer flexible work schedules. Four day work weeks without a pay cut. Increased paid time off. Stipend for covering caregivers.
Companies like mine, the fintech start-up Carta, are offering a $10,000 annual stipend per employee to help with childcare for kids under 13 years old. Salesforce added six additional weeks of available time off for employees who are parents. Awin, an affiliate marketing network, converted to a four day work week, citing that “staff well-being was at the forefront of their minds” and has enabled employees to spend more time with their families.
Now is the time for you as a leader to be championing these policies if your company hasn’t stepped up to offer the support and flexibility working mothers so desperately need.
Acknowledge and include our children
“Oh, I see your son is in the background,” a leader said to me during a meeting a few months into the pandemic. He clearly seemed annoyed. “Does he know you are in a meeting?”
“Yes, he does. He is doing his school work while I work and meet with you,” I responded, smiling while I cursed loudly inside my head. “Now why don’t we go back to reviewing the proposal?”
I continue to lead and participate in Zoom meetings while slicing apples, finding glue sticks and logging my kids into their Zoom classes. And one year later, my kids aren’t going anywhere. If you expect that they’ll magically disappear or that the situation for working parents with kids at home will “sort itself out,” as a former boss once told me, well, it hasn’t been sorted. My kids are still here.
So please acknowledge and include them. If they wander into our meeting, you can wave and say hi to them; they might even wave and say hi back. When people acknowledge, include and connect with our children, it helps build trust and allows us to continue to be vulnerable. We then know our companies support our efforts to not only be great leaders, but also to be great mothers.
Check in with women who left
Check back in with the women who left your company, either because they resigned or because their job was eliminated. Make the time to send them an email or set up a virtual coffee. If there are roles open at your company, or even on your team, offer to refer them, and connect them to recruiting and the hiring manager.
If you aren’t hiring right now, help connect women in the market for opportunities outside of your company. Offer to review their resume, assist them with their LinkedIn profiles and connect with them networking opportunities with leaders you know. If they are not looking to re-enter the workforce at this time, let them know you will continue to be there as a sounding board and be here to help when they are ready.
Support working mothers outside of your company
Use your wallet to support working mothers. If you are looking for thank you gifts or team building activities, make it a priority to buy from working mothers. Support these small business owners and your local communities.
Mitzi Toro, known as The Maui Cookie Lady, runs a boutique bakery on Maui where she creates delicious, gourmet cookies infused with local Hawaiian ingredients. Her cookies make for wonderful corporate gifts that are unique and sure to make an impression (and they are big enough to share with the kids!)
Azra Mehdi, a mom of two who finally pursued her lifelong passion for jewelry and started her line, Au Xchange Fine Gold Jewelry, a year ago is another great mom to consider supporting.
Finally, check out The Luminary Collective, started by Cate Luzio, founder and CEO of Luminary, which is an online platform to shine the spotlight on woman-owned businesses. Many of these founders are working mothers whose companies are selling apparel, beauty products, food and beverage and more.
Next time you are looking to send a working mother a gift, think about sending her a meal instead. Sure, I love a good cocktail kit, and if you happen to send that to me I won’t complain. If you send me a meal for my family instead, I know you have been paying attention and that you see me. That you are doing your best to support me in my daily battle to keep working. And that you know that I am trying my best to be the mom my kids deserve.